Skip to main content

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers
4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters

I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.


Steed: Had a spot of bother with the natives. A full-blown savage, with a very unfriendly disposition.
Mrs Peel: Oh, come now, Steed.

It’s also an episode big on the colonial critique, not to mention innocently dipping into the conspiratorial waters of spreading diseases (and testing vaccines) in third world countries. The teaser is a particular good one, as a man (Peter Thomas), pursued through thick jungle, ends up with an arrow in his back, collapsing near a sign that reads “London 23 Miles”.


Mrs Peel investigates signs of a Kalayan tribal influence (the Shirenzai symbol, “a more dread form of voodoo”) while Steed gets personal, calling on Colonel Rawlings (Bill Fraser, General Grugger in Meglos), who lives inside a biodome-equivalent jungle. 


Promoting suggestions of the supernatural is Professor Swain (Liam Redmond), whose misdirections (“He sleeps the sleep of the living dead. There’s no awakening him. Not by any means I have at my command”) mask his own dastardly doings, since he’s the ringleader of a plot to take back control of Kalaya by introducing tse tse flies carrying a strain of sleeping sickness that will render the whole country paralysed within a week.


Steed: He’s got a nice line in au pairs.
Trent: He’s got a whole tribe of them out there.

Swain’s supported by game hunter Simon Trent (James Villiers), given to making threatening allusions (“This time of day, if I see something moving, it’s all I can do to stop myself from shooting it”) and detaining Steed at the residence on account of the hazardous rivers during monsoon season. 


Indulging the delusions of an eccentric becomes an increasingly common trope of the series, one we previously saw with Sir Horace Winslip in The Gravediggers. Colonel Rawlings is a Blimpish type withdrawn into his own oblivious world (“He couldn’t survive the winds of change, softened his brain. He still thinks he’s there”) while his assistants get up to no good under his nose.


Trent: Tomorrow we fly back to Kalaya, Steed. We’re going back. Back. And we’re taking this with us. Thousands of the little beasties, that’s all we need. And once they’re release in a climate like that…
Steed: They breed like flies?
Trent: Yes, like flies. They breed like flies.
Swain: The whole country will be paralysed in a week, and then we take over. A pretty plan, don’t you think?


Indeed, during the finale, while an alluring Emma arrives impersonating Lala (Esther Anderson) with a flower in her hair, the Colonel wanders around making irrelevant comments about a notional uprising (“Take them some coloured beads. Always seems to help”; “By Jove, the natives are restless tonight, A firm hand, that’s what’s needed. A firm hand”).

 

Not that the rest of it is exactly played straight, with Steed swinging in on a vine to Emma’s rescue (“Me Steed”; “Me Emma”) and putting paid to Trent after confidently telling him, in 007 fashion, “Mauser, single barrel. You’ve had your five”. Subsequently grappling with him, a further shot goes off (“My arithmetic is shocking!”) Villiers makes for a low key but effective villain, Redmond less so, meaning that some of his nefarious lines fall a bit flat (“All that work almost spoiled because of you. That arouses me to violence”).


Notable in the episode are two persons of colour, the aforementioned Anderson and Paul Danquah as Razafi, Kalayan Secret Service. The former has little in the way of dialogue, but the latter makes a strong impression when he reveals his undercover status to Steed. I hadn’t realised the series’ predominant absence of ethnic actors was intentional (“Clemens explains that the success of ‘THE AVENGERS’ is due to its element of fantasy. And all the taboos come under the heading of social realities…”) It’s a thin argument, particularly since it is broken on several occasions (more recently, Brian True-May tried out a similar line with Midsommer Murders).


Steed: I once shot a bull elephant myself.
Outfitter: Really? What did you use?
Steed: F8 at 500ths of a second, and a small roll of film.

Amusing interludes include Steed calling on Tropic Outfitters early on, precise in their knowledge (“My goodness, sir. This is a relic. One of our old mid-tropical five-button broad weaves”) and up with the sales patter (“No matter where you are, steaming jungle, burning bush or arid desert, we always get your order through”).


Mrs Peel: What’s missing?
Steed: Colonel Rawling’s file. Fortunately, he overlooked my cucumber sandwiches.
Mrs Peel: Oh, very good.

So too, after his altercation with a Kalayan native, Steed is sanguine about the damage done (above). There are some nice edits, notably Emma awaking from leafing through a book on tribal rituals and seeing a “real” tribesman. Steed plays what looks like an intense game of cards with the Colonel, only for it to be revealed as Snap! The laugh-off is merely so-so, however (Steed and Emma in a rowing boat, she telling him to start the other engine, he beginning to paddle in response).













Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…